Title: A Map of the World
Author: Jane Hamilton
Page Count: 389 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Tone: Dark, melancholy, reflective
A loner by nature, Alice is torn between a yearning for solitude coupled with a deep need to be at the center of a perfect family. On this particular day, Emma has started the morning with a violent tantrum, her little sister Claire is eating pennies, and it is Alice’s turn to watch her neighbor’s two small girls as well as her own. She absentmindedly steals a minute alone that quickly becomes ten: time enough for a devastating accident to occur. Her neighbor’s daughter Lizzy drowns in the farm’s pond, and Alice – whose own volatility and unmasked directness keep her on the outskirts of acceptance – becomes the perfect scapegoat.
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.
Questions composed by MPPL Staff
1. Alice and Therese seem to be two very different woman; what do you think connected them?
2. Alice describes her mothering and her life one way, yelling at kids and trying to control herself, and Howard describes her in a very different way, as a navigator. Who did you think the real Alice was?
3. What did you think of Therese’s feelings toward Alice after Lizzie dies?
4. What did you think of Alice’s reaction at the funeral?
5. Alice wondered why Howard did not come after her when she ran out of the funeral. Should he have?
6. What did you think about Therese’s ability to forgive?
7. What do you think Alice wants? (Forgiveness? Could she accept it?)
8. Albert talked to Therese about the “quality of mercy” (pg. 223: mercy blesses the giver and receiver). What did you think about this? What do you think Mercy is?
9. Is it possible for the “average person” if there is such a thing to forgive, when the death of a child is involved?
10. Is all of the blame for accident one-sided? Therese did tell Lizzie she was going swimming and that she was a good swimmer…
11. Why do you think Therese received so much comfort from her visit to the former priest, Albert Satinga?
12. Albert asked Therese to tell him about Lizzie’s life. Why did it help her to tell him Lizzie’s life story?
13. What did you think about Robbie MacKessy? Was there anything in the book that led you to believe he wasn’t a normal six-year-old?
14. Why do you think the charges were brought against Alice?
15. In the beginning of the book Alice described Robbie as a disturbed boy that enraged her every time she saw him. Why did Alice dislike him so much?
16. At the end of the book during the trial, Robbie’s preschool teacher described him as a belligerent troubled child and that her staff had repeatedly suggested that the Mackessys have him evaluated. Alice thought to herself, “Oh, but Robbie wasn’t that bad. Truly he wasn’t so awful. They were drawing him as a budding psychopath based on his performance at preschool.” Why the change of heart?
17. Do you think Alice would have been accused of molestation if Lizzie hadn’t drowned?
18. What did you think of Alice’s confession to the police?
19. Therese was very upset over Alice’s incarceration and felt she was being railroaded. Did that surprise you? Why do you think she was so upset?
20. From Howard’s point of view in the story, he was mystified by Alice’s behavior: her calmness when she was taken into custody and how animated she was during his visits. What is your take on this? Howard was afraid Alice would withdraw more into herself when she was arrested, but once she was put in jail, she was communicating like her old self (pg 148). Why?
21. What do you think about Alice’s time in prison? What did you think of the other prisoners?
22. Why do you think Alice did so well in jail?
23. Do you think Howard believes in Alice’s innocence?
24. Do you think that once you are accused of abuse, there is anything you can do to save yourself?
25. Initially Alice insisted that Rafferty be her defense attorney and really seemed to “love” him, yet Howard seemed to detest him. What do you think was going on with that?
26. What did you think of Howard and Therese’s relationship?
27. Therese told Howard she loved him and he is “everything that’s good” (pg 259). This is in direct contrast to some of Alice’s statements, saying Howard had been betraying her, and “leeching from me what was my strength” (pg 286). Alice also said Howard was so methodical and even-tempered that in his shadow anyone would have been erratic and moody (pg 286). Who is the real Howard?
28. What did you think of the nebulous character, Dan?
29. Why did Howard sell the farm? Why was Alice so adamant that he not sell it?
30. Do you agree with Howard that they had to leave Prairie Water because they would be guilty even if proven innocent?
31. Should Howard have told Alice about the state interviewing the girls to see if they were abused? What do you think Alice would have said had she known Therese encouraged him not to?
32. Do you think the setting mattered for the storyline? Why do you think Hamilton used this setting in particular?
33. What did you think of the ending. Did everything work out?
Breakfast Club book discussion questions
Reading Group Guide
BookBrowse interview with Jane Hamilton
Video of Jane Hamilton talking about her work
Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!
Half a Life by Darin Strauss
First Desire by Nancy Reisman
Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult